It's time to take on the issues and take responsibility as a society': a conversation with Afro-Andean trans candidate for congress in Peru, Gahela Cari
The only way to carry out a fundamental transformation is by joining hands, hearts and heartbeats, listening to the earth and our affections, the way is from the collective'.
Gahela Cari is a young trans, Afro-Andean, migrant, daughter of peasants, who declares herself a believer in intersectionality and love as revolution. She is a candidate for the Peruvian Congress for the leftist party Juntos por Perú, and this is the second time she is running for election. She has been an activist since she was a child, and as a person, she herself is affected by different struggles and has been defending them for a long time.
Your proposals reflect these personal struggles that at the same time are social and political struggles. What was the breaking point for you to decide to enter politics?
I have been involved in politics since I was very young, since I was in elementary school, I was in charge of the school municipality. Since I was a child I fought against child abuse, against child trafficking, I fought for the care of the earth, we did actions to combat climate change, to protect animals and I have done it all my life. I think that is already politics. I am the daughter not only of peasant parents but actually of farmer leaders, I am a human rights defender and I have done a lot of grassroots work throughout my life.
However, a few years ago, I decided to go into partisan politics. Starting in 2015 I supported Veronica Mendoza's pre-candidacy and then the candidacy in 2016. After those elections, I became a constant and permanent member of a political party that we founded, the New Peru. I am the founder of a political party, and I have been a constant and permanent militant during all these years, and I think that something that pushed me to become a politician is the need to fight for changes. To fight so that no one else has to live through what I have lived through, so that no one else has to suffer from transphobia, racism, violence, discrimination, but also poverty or exploitation.
That is why I do politics. I do politics from love, from affection, with the need to build a society with social justice and equality.
You use as a slogan "we must transform politics", what does this transformation imply?
In reality we want to change everything. We want to put an end to machismo, homophobia, racism, poverty, exploitation. But also with the way politics is done. I am not a traditional politician, nor do I talk out of my mouth, but in reality much of what I say is what has been worked on from the social movement during all these years, and it is part of my day-to-day actions. I believe that throughout all this time we have managed to change a lot of political spaces. It is not by chance that I am running at this moment. It is not an individual nomination, it is a collective nomination, in which there are people who want to fight in the elections for equality. It is also the result of a process of constant struggle of women throughout history and of LGTBI people claiming their own voice in those spaces where it is decided how much and how it is spent. In this sense, I believe that transforming everything implies profound changes that guarantee a society with social justice and equality. We want to put an end to machismo, to racism, to all forms of discrimination and violence. We want to put an end to this extractivist system that only pollutes and murders. We believe that it is extremely necessary to build a world with equal opportunities and conditions for everyone.
What difference do you feel between this electoral campaign and the previous one?
Last year we were fighting to highlight the inequalities caused by this capitalist, extractivist and patriarchal system and it was a little difficult because we were still living under the mirage of the Peruvian miracle in which we were told all the time that everything was fine, that things were going well, that we were one of the most successful countries. That we were one of the most successful countries, but the pandemic and this health crisis have shown us that this society has only generated inequalities, poverty, misery, pain, violence and discrimination, which has only served to succeed with corrupt politicians and companies. That is why it is necessary, because even though it is extremely complicated, it is a key moment to be able to propose a real transformation like the one Verónica Mendoza and Juntos por el Perú are proposing. It is an opportunity to put an end to these inequalities, this neoliberal system that has only produced death and pain, we need an economic reactivation for those who have the least: those small farmers who have been forgotten, those mothers, those workers, those children who deserve an education free of machismo, those youths and adolescents who can no longer believe that love is a crime, because it is not. We need to provide a world free of violence for women, in which LGTBI people can walk without fear, in which indigenous peoples have the right to prior consultation and their participation and autonomy is recognized, not only of their bodies but also of their territories. This is what differentiates last year's candidacy from this year's, that the crisis has shown how cruel this system is and how the only thing it has done is to generate inequalities that have had a negative impact on the lives of the poorest, women, indigenous peoples, Afro-descendants and sexual diversities. In this context, it is extremely necessary to fight to change everything, to fight for equality.
In spite of the fact that the pandemic has shown us a face of the country that we did not want to see, something we had turned our backs on, we still feel that tempers are running high, and there are hate speeches, we hear them from the street in people and politicians with violent ways of interacting with other politicians, do you feel that in the last years in terms of discrimination -classism, misogyny, transphobia, homophobia- things have changed in Peru? where do you notice it?
Sexism, homophobia, lesbophobia, racism, there has always been, the difference is that now we recognize it and we are outraged and that has to do with the work of many people all these years, it is not for free. Before, women were beaten and could not denounce because it belonged to the private sphere; racist and transphobic behaviors were replicated and absolutely nothing happened. Today at least as a society we have understood that this is not right and when someone replicates it there is a whole society saying that we have to leave all that behind. All this is an achievement of the social movement, of the LGTBI movement, of feminism, of those of us who fight for equality. It is extremely necessary to continue fighting, we live in a capitalist, patriarchal, extractivist system that continues to impose social mandates on us, on men the mandate of masculinity and on women the condemnation to live in a country, in a world that is dangerous for us. And indeed there are those who have seen these changes taking place and feel their privileges threatened and I believe that this causes desperate actions to continue with the status quo, there are those who would love to continue with the way the world has been functioning in the last centuries. However, I believe that equality is inevitable. Sooner or later it will become a reality, it is only a matter of time. And they know it but they refuse to give way to a society with equality and social justice. They try to revive the system, to make us believe that it is necessary to live with certain prejudices or to condemn people for the way they are and the way they love.fortunately as a society we have advanced a lot, especially in recent years, because we have managed to understand the need to intertwine our struggles, the need to join our hearts, our heartbeats, our efforts to build a world free of misery, poverty and exploitation. It is possible to build a better world, we are doing it.
Sometimes I hear some proposals or speeches of candidates that may sound 'progre', such as the legalization of cannabis, equal marriage, and I discuss them with other Peruvians, and two things happen to me: on the one hand people who tell me that the country has other urgencies/needs and that these are 'secondary' proposals or, people who tell me that Peru is not ready for all this yet. what do you think of these statements (or what do you think these statements are due to) and what would you say to these people?
I think it is necessary to understand that what we are proposing is that people can be and love freely, we are not proposing that they change their sexual orientation, their gender identity. If you are against equal marriage don't marry a homosexual or a lesbian, marry a heterosexual and equal marriage is not going to end that. If you are against the integral trans law then easy, don't transition, because suddenly for you it is not important but for trans people it is extremely necessary, even more so in a context in which we go through transphobia, racism during our whole life in a constant and permanent way. More in a country like this one that does not take care of the precariousness in which it makes us live. Suddenly not for you because you live with all your privileges and you don't have to go out in the street to demand that your ID card has a name that reflects your identity. Be thankful that you were born into a world that has given you the minimum to get ahead, there are people who do not have that. Indigenous peoples do not have the opportunity to have intercultural health. Women have to take care of ourselves every time we go out to a party so that we don't run into certain guys who end up raping us. We live in constant danger. LGTBI people are sometimes killed by our own parents only sometimes. Trans people go through transphobia from the moment we open our eyes, they take away our childhood and adolescence. They force us to have to hold our pee when we are at school so we don't have to go through those bathrooms because we suffer a lot of sexual harassment there, they are going to tell us that it is not time, that there is something more important, how many more trans sisters I have to see die so they really understand that it is necessary, how many more women have to kill, murder, burn or explode so they understand that we have to fight a battle against machismo? That it is necessary to implement a comprehensive policy to fight against gender violence. That is what JP proposes with Veronica Mendoza, call it populism, radical left, whatever you want. Beyond the label, the only thing we want is to transform the country, to put an end to these inequalities, to put an end to violence and discrimination. It may be uncomfortable but it is necessary. It is necessary to understand, even if only out of empathy, the need to have these mechanisms that do not impose a vision of the world on absolutely no one. The only thing that each of the things we are putting on the table achieve is to help prevent situations of violence and discrimination through education and through measures that help us affirmatively to end stereotypes and molds that have done so much damage not only to women and LGTBI people but also to men by imposing on them the mandate of masculinity and mutilating their ability to express what they feel. Each of these changes are necessary.
In other countries in the region, Chile or Argentina, we have seen progress in their legislation on sexual and reproductive rights of women, on gender identity, or how do you find or how do you place Peru on that path?
In recent years we have made great progress in terms of civil society with greater openness to education and respect for people of sexual gender diversity. However, there is also an articulation of anti-rights and conservatives who seek to stop progress and it is necessary to learn from history and Germanic countries. In Argentina the decriminalization of abortion and gender identity law have not fallen from the sky. There have been organized women, LGBT people who have taken to the streets and have formed a space for dialogue, discussion and defense of their rights. That is why it has been possible the approval of so necessary norms, and this has been repeated in all countries. In no country in Latin America have politicians woken up one day and said 'well today we are going to be good to LGTBI people and we are going to give them their rights, that does not happen. It is necessary for the social movement, LGTBI people and women to organize ourselves and also to analyze the contexts. The current context is complicated, but it is also an opportunity to bet on a proposal like Veronica Mendoza's, a woman who has not committed any crime, who is not involved in an act of corruption, who has been defending LGTBI people for many years, who has confronted the coup parties and corrupt politicians in Congress to defend same-sex couples, LGTBI people, women. That shows that Veronica is a woman committed to the struggle for equality, her vocation to serve and her convictions, because she is not someone who comes to look at our agenda and problematic a couple of months before the elections for political calculation. She is committed to our struggles and is the only proposal that gives us the best conditions to continue fighting, no other proposal guarantees the struggle for equality.
This is an important step that we women, feminists, lgtbi people, and citizens in general have to evaluate. To understand that in this context we can not stand aside, it is a key moment to empty the coup parties, corrupt politicians, to fight against sexism, homophobia, racism, discrimination, misery and poverty at the ballot box. To fight with every vote for equality, there will not be another chance, after April 12, even if we tear our hair out there will be no way to change the situation. If we want to change everything we have to campaign here and now, assume our responsibility and organize ourselves to support a proposal like Veronica Mendoza's, like mine and the one JP is proposing, the time is now, we have to change everything.
You put forward several proposals from the point of view of transfeminism, perhaps you are one of the candidates who propose more structural changes, you have on the agenda the Integral Trans Law for example, which in an interview I heard you say that it gives back citizenship to the trans community, why do you think there is resistance to a proposal like this?
I am quite critical about the bicentennial and democracy but also with citizenship. We talk about the bicentennial but women have been voting for a little more than 60 years, a few decades ago women could not go to university to continue their studies, the children of farmers could not go to school because they had to serve the boss. Thanks to the agrarian reform the children of small farmers today can go to primary and secondary school and with a lot of effort a small percentage at least can continue with university studies. That is why I am critical of democracy and the bicentennial, because it is not for all people, it is for white cisgender, heterosexual men, who from day one of independence have been free. But that is not the case for women, lgtb or trans people. Despite being on the verge of 200 years of independence,
trans people in this country do not even have the possibility of having a DNI with our name that respects our gender identity. This is extremely dangerous, violent and anti-democratic. What kind of democracy can we talk about at this moment if here people are raped and killed with total impunity? If judges like Hinostroza negotiate with the sentence of rape of a minor. If the police kill young people like Inti and Cono Bryan, indigenous people as happened in Baguazo, peasants as happened in Espinar. Is that democracy? For me it is not, I believe that we have to build a real, full and effective democracy and in that way it is necessary to give back citizenship to those who continue to be forgotten, forgotten and forgotten by the state. That is why one of my main proposals is an Integral Trans Law, in order to provide trans people with a fast and safe process so that they can access the change of data in their ID card. Something that goes according to what has been established by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights through advisory opinions 24-2017, where it recognizes sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories, and gender identity as a human right that states are obliged to respect and safeguard. The Peruvian constitutional court itself recognizes sexual orientation and gender identity as a protected legal right in its ruling. Therefore, it is necessary to provide a fast and safe process for trans people to change their data in the DNI, but this is not enough. It is necessary to provide permanent training and a labor quota for trans people in the public sector amounting to at least 1%. In addition, to put on the table measures that help us to put an end to transphobic bullying in schools, which only causes trans people to be expelled from the educational system or that as a result of so much transphobic bullying they end up committing suicide. Finally, we also propose a health care protocol for trans people in all their diversities, for women, for trans masculine or non-binary trans people. This is extremely necessary because it aims to guarantee fundamental rights of trans people, such as the right to identity, labor rights, education and health. It may sound like a whim, but in reality it is an act of justice.
You are a woman of the countryside, your family is a farmer and you know firsthand what this work means. You are proposing a Second Agrarian Reform, can you explain to us a little about what this proposal consists of?
First, I would like to make it clear that I have four proposals. I propose a Gender Reform in order to put an end to sexist education, through an education based on affection, love, care and tenderness. I also propose a Police Reform to put an end to the criminalization of protest, the third is a Tax Reform, to be able to remove tax benefits enjoyed by agro-exploiters, churches, universities, and to put on the table a tax on great wealth that will allow us to cover the costs of all these changes that the country needs. Finally I propose a Second Agrarian Reform, it is a cry for freedom, an attempt to improve the living conditions of small farmers who have made it possible for us to survive the pandemic. Without them our markets would not have been supplied, our plates would have been empty. The least they deserve is for the government to see that they exist and improve their living conditions. Unfortunately, recent governments have been busy providing large tax benefits and exemptions to the agro-exploiters, and have not provided any kind of permanent or sufficient help for small farmers. Today, farmers are still working the land at 80, 90, 95 years old, to be able to cover their basic family expenses and their needs, because they have no other alternative, they do not have a retirement pension or health insurance. Because the state has not taken charge and because as a society we have failed them, it is time to provide them with a law, a reform that allows them to live in dignified conditions. That is why through the Second Agrarian Reform I propose four basic and fundamental things: a retirement pension and agrarian health insurance; second, an irrigation program from the state so that farmers can irrigate their fields; third, permanent training and low-interest loans so that banks do not take advantage of small farmers and end up expropriating their land; and finally, a government program for direct purchases from the state to help us guarantee fair prices. Each of these proposals is part of what the peasant movement has been demanding for many years. Farmers have been lobbying the central government, ministries and regional governments for years asking to be heard, calling for dialogue and during all these years they have been ignored, but they have also been shot at and treated with prejudice when they have taken to the streets to demand a better quality of life. It is time to take on these problems and take charge as a society. It is not a whim, it is an act of justice.
Recently the journalist Marco Sifuentes said in one of the programs of La Encerrona, that when it is believed that we have reached the bottom, the congress of the republic opens the basement, referring to the Vaccinegate scandal, what is your opinion about all this? What sanctions should be applied as citizens and from the state?
The main thing is to disqualify all those involved because they have shown us that their greed and selfishness have no limits, these politicians are no different from those who traffic in oxygen. I believe that it is necessary to disqualify them, a thorough investigation and that each one pays for their crimes. But it is also necessary to leave on the table the need to take care of this process and not let it be used by the coup parties to wash their faces. Those corrupt politicians are still corrupt, and the congress, with a few exceptions, is full of corrupt politicians, coup plotters and vacators. The fact that Vizcarra is corrupt does not take away the fact that he is a coup plotter, they are still just as nefarious. We continue to repudiate Merino for having murdered Inti and Bryan with his decisions. I think it is necessary to understand that what the corrupt Vizcarra did with Mazzetti and all his ring of traditional politicians do nothing more than motivate us to get rid of all that traditional political class. That congress and those politicians and executives who have shown us that the only thing that matters to them is the ring and political favors to continue living in the midst of corruption and impunity. That is why it is a key moment to change everything and bury these coup parties and those traditional politicians, it is a key moment to be able to push for a real transformation.
Veronica Mendoza is the only candidate that proposes to the country a fundamental change, the rest are putting band-aids on the wound, some two or three, but nobody is willing to make fundamental changes, only JP is buying the lawsuit and I think it is important to understand the need to take a position and make a decision about it, because the destiny of the next five years is at stake, if we do not make a decision at this time we will end up repeating the same mistakes and we will end up in a congress full of coup parties, corrupt politicians, people and authorities that the only thing they do is to take advantage of their position for personal gain and to give themselves political favors, it is time to change everything and close the way and fight for equality.
Do you see the elections in danger of taking place as planned? Do you feel it in the political environment?
I think that as long as scientists and doctors do not change the date or do not consider that the elections have to be postponed, things will have to continue as they are. In fact, there is a group of corrupt politicians and coup plotters who have wanted to use this vaccinagate scandal to postpone the elections, to try to wash their faces and say 'well, we were right, that's why we are good for Martin Vizcarra, we are good' but no, they are just as corrupt or worse, nothing makes them less coup plotters and corrupt, and nothing gives them credibility, that is why it is necessary to respect the elections unless the health professionals tell us that it is not possible, that decision would have to be scientific, epidemiological. As long as it is possible, we have to move forward with the vaccine, with oxygen, with reinforcing the front line and guaranteeing government aid, this is something we have been proposing throughout the pandemic. The only candidate who has been present during the crisis proposing things to face this crisis has been Veronica Mendoza, while the rest ran or were absent from the needs. And it is no coincidence, JP is the only government plan that proposes a comprehensive health plan, which also has a plan to be able to treat the aftermath of covid, because we care about health and we are willing to change everything.
For our Latin American readers of the newspaper I wanted to comment on a couple of things after the process that the United States has gone through. Sarah McBride is the first trans woman in parliament and Rachel Levine as health secretary in PA. How important is representation in these positions, we are not the same context but do you think we are going in that direction?
I think we are contesting spaces, narratives, common senses and we are closer to equality, and it is necessary to understand that equality does not fall from the sky nor is it bought at the supermarket. Our rights are not going to be given to us, we have to fight for them, we have to organize ourselves. The only way to carry out real changes and a deep transformation is by joining hands, hearts and heartbeats, listening to the earth and our affections, it is the only way from the collective. That is why it is necessary to understand this electoral process but not in isolation with what comes next, because this is only a direct way to channel our struggle but we will have to continue to influence whatever happens with the elections, to continue fighting for equality. Not only for a trans health minister, but in fact for the rights of all trans people, women, and all citizens in general to be respected.
What do you hope to generate with your path and presence at the congress?
I would love that my presence, along with the whole team that is at my side, serves to encourage more people to do politics from the left, from an intersectional feminism, from the processes of transformation. I think it is extremely necessary to form more leadership, to push the organization, I think it is crucial to break stereotypes, prejudices and molds, that is what we are doing along the way. But I believe that I will go quietly to a drawer when I see that there are more hearts, many more people, more minds dreaming of a different country. Many more people striving to build a different world in which to be and to love is not a crime. What I am looking for is for people to question themselves, to question themselves from the affection, from the affections, to assume their responsibility in the struggle, you do not have to be an Afro or indigenous person to be against racism, you do not have to be a trans person to fight for their rights. Do we want to continue with a traditional political class that vaccinates itself on the sly or do we want to have politicians like Veronica Mendoza, Gahela, Chabelita, like many other women who have demonstrated their vocation of service and clear convictions during all these years?
This is the time to change everything, to be able to fight for our lives in these elections to fight with every vote for equality.
Any last message you would like to say to the youth?
I would like to call on all the people who fight for equality, not only young people, women, feminists in Peru, Latin America and the whole world, it is necessary to call on people who fight for equality to support this campaign. Not only contribute, those who can economically or help to make content, develop videos, illustrations, but what we can not do is to stand idly by or watch from the sidelines while our comrades are fighting. It is necessary that all the people who fight for equality around the world support us: Write to us, communicate with us through social networks, join this campaign full of love, affection, courage, but above all of pleasure.
You said that you don't have to be Afro or Andean to be anti-racist or a woman to be a feminist, here there is a discussion about feminism that does not include trans women, what would you say about it?
I believe that feminism is a political subject in all its diversities. There is no such thing as a woman, there are women. Not all women are the same or have a vagina or have gone to college, on the contrary. There are peasant women, city women, farmers, workers, young women, girls, adolescents, older women, lebians, bisexual, pansexual, trans, cisgender and absolutely all of them have a space in feminism, at least in the different feminisms. I am an intersectional and class feminist, I am a popular peasant feminist, I am a feminist of Abya Yala, and I believe that feminisms aim at the recognition, defense, struggle and protection of all women. If there is any group or thought that excludes because of what you have between your legs it is anything but feminism, because it ends up replicating the biologicist concepts of the anti-rights. I think it is time to move from measuring people by their genitals, to value diversity, to recognize how different we are and how strong we can be when we articulate ourselves, when we join our voices and demand justice and reparation in one chorus. The day we manage to liberate ourselves all, that day we will have triumphed as feminism and we will have made the revolution, while it is not so there is still work to be done.
The struggle is not for one or for a group, it is for all women in all their diversity. The struggle is for a different world, a green world in which the earth, water and animals are respected, for a good life and a world free of violence for all. That is the feminism that I pursue, that I learned in the streets, that is the feminism that saved my life and that today I share with the world.
I hope this reaches people who can join the campaign, it is key to raise funds, hands, efforts, talent to be able to respond to the campaign. Because your campaign is self-managed, right? Actually some companies approached us, there was a bank that wanted to finance our campaign, there was a group of people who wanted to contribute anonymously and we refused those contributions because we believe it is necessary to build with transparency, you can not build in that way because then we do not know who is financing us and with what intentions, so we decided to make a campaign from self-management, taking into account the love and affection of the people and those who believe in our proposal.